Grist to the Writing Mill

I’ve been going to an online writing group for the last four months. It’s been run by Vanessa Gebbie, writer and teacher extraordinaire, and is called Grist to the Writing Mill.

Essentially, for one evening each month we sat on Zoom and wrote all sorts of exercises for two and a half hours, using a number of different prompts and ideas from Vanessa, and we could discuss them afterwards (but not read them out – I know the idea of sharing first drafts is terrifying to people).

I joined because I was in a bit of a slump, writing-wise. I’ve been querying my novel for a while and it’s a joyless enterprise, sucking all the enthusiasm out of writing at all. (When I mentioned this, Vanessa nodded in understanding sympathy so I knew I was among friends.) A short sharp blast of writing is just the thing to get ideas flowing and I have really missed going to a writing group regularly so this was exactly the right prescription for me.

As a result I have pages and pages of words, some potential poems (I don’t usually do poetry but the group is there to try new things and encourage a change), some short stories or flash pieces, and Vanessa gave us lots of tips and suggestions to move our writing on, in terms of where ideas spring from or how you can infuse your writing with real character and emotion.

I’m working on several of these pieces now but more than that, the writing mode has been unlocked in my head now and I have ideas again. It feels like something of a relief, to know that there is still something in there, that I’m not completely spent of writing ideas – the imposter syndrome is strong in this one.

While you can find any number of writing prompts at any time, I think it was the group dynamic that made the difference to me. As ever, it’s easier to get the words out when you’re on a deadline, and I guess it’s the same principle – you’re together to write so you just get it done. And being online didn’t make any difference to the feel of the group, we were able to come together from all over the country (and at least one person on another continent). We were all able to turn cameras off for writing blasts and switch back on for chats, plus muting was helpful when my daughter was practicing piano in the front room – but my point is that it fit with my schedule and having the group there made it easier for me to say “I’m writing now” which I sometimes find difficult to do.

Vanessa is looking to run the sessions again later in the year and I’d really recommend them – we had a nice group of people who were all at different stages in their writing, and who were in the right spirit to share and ask questions. So keep an eye out on her Twitter feed and website for more details and maybe I’ll see you there!

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